Cradle of Religious Freedom in America
From Virginia's founding until the American Revolution 170 years later, the Anglican Church was the only state recognized religion. The government built the churches and the parsonages and paid the clergy with tax money. All other religious groups were discouraged, suppressed and harassed until a powerful religious movement, known as the "Great Awakening," took hold in the middle colonies in 1739 when British evangelist George Whitefield preached in Williamsburg.
Whitefield inspired a Hanover County brick mason, Samuel Morris, and others to absent themselves from Anglican worship. Gathering in his home on Sundays, these dissenters read the Bible and religious tracts on reformation. By 1743 the dissenter movement led to the establishment of four dissenter congregations known as "Morris Reading Houses." The reading house on this site was built on Morris' land and named after George Polegreen, the recipient of the land patent made the prior century.
In July 1743, William "One Eye" Robinson, an itinerant minister, preached the county's first Presbyterian sermon here. Robinson sent the congregation's offering to a young man studying for the ministry in what was then Pennsylvania, named Samuel Davies. In April 1747, Reverend Davies visited Virginia to thank the dissenters for their gift. He travelled to Williamsburg first where upon petition he successfully became the first non-Anglican minister licensed by the Governor's Council. One year later, Davies became the pastor of the four dissenter congregations. Patrick Henry worshipped here with his mother during Davies tenure. Later in 1759, Davies left to become president of the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University. On December 4, 1755, the Hanover Presbytery, now the Presbytery of the James, held its first meeting at Polegreen.
(May 29, 1736 - June 6, 1799) was the leading Virginia statesman in defending the rights of Colonial America.
Following Henry's death, John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson singing his praises: "In the Congress of 1774 there was not one member, except Patrick Henry, who appeared to me sensible of the Precipice or rather the Pinnacle on which he stood, and had the candour and courage enough to acknowledge it."
Henry was the first elected governor of Virginia, a devoted father of 17 children, and the most famous orator of his day. Born in Hanover County, Henry made a name for himself as a young lawyer in the Parsons' Cause at Hanover Courthouse in 1763. His 1765 resolutions against the Stamp Act articulated the basic principles of the American Revolution. Henry is perhaps best known for his immortal words "Give me liberty or give me death," which he delivered during the Second Virginia Convention in a speech to fellow delegates George Washington and Thomas Jefferson at St. John's Church in 1775. His impassioned words helped move colonists toward American independence and they continue to inspire the cause of freedom around the world.
Known as the "Voice of the Revolution," Henry's political career included 26 years of service in the Virginia legislature and five terms as governor. He helped draft the Virginia Constitution of 1776 and its Declaration of Rights. A leading critic of the U.S. Constitution, Henry also strongly influenced the creation of the Bill of Rights. Following his death, Henry was buried at Red Hill Plantation, now the site of the Patrick Henry National Memorial.